North Carolina COVID-19-Related Business Closures and Restrictions Increase

Governor Roy Cooper expanded school and business restrictions in North Carolina as COVID-19 diagnoses continue to rise. Governor Cooper announced today that he will extend the closure of North Carolina K-12 public schools for another 6 weeks through May 15th via Executive Order. The Order also bans gatherings of more than 50 people and closes businesses where social distancing is difficult to maintain beginning no later than 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Those businesses include hair and nail salons, massage and spa services, barbershops, movie theaters, gyms, and health clubs.

Mecklenburg County Stay At Home Order On The Horizon

While Governor Cooper’s Order stops short of a statewide stay in place order, Mecklenburg County officials are reportedly considering whether to order county residents to begin staying at home this week. County commissioners have reportedly said they don’t believe Governor Cooper’s latest Order goes far enough in limiting nonessential travel and outings.

Good Time To Review The FFRCA

Employers forced to shutter as a result of today’s Order should review the provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFRCA”), passed and signed into law on March 18, 2020. The Act, which goes into effect April 2, 2020, provides for paid emergency sick leave due to certain absences related to COVID-19 and amends the Family Medical Leave Act to include paid leave for employees unable to work or telework due to the COVID-19-related unavailability of childcare.

While the DOL guidance doesn’t really offer much new interpretation of the FFCRA, it does put the information into one location on the DOL website and also indicates for the first time that the DOL will observe a 30-day temporary period of non-enforcement following the FFCRA’s April 2, 2020 effective date so long as employers act reasonably and in good faith to comply with the Act.

 Unemployment and Disability Insurance

With the passage of the FFCRA, it’s easy for employers to forget about compliance requirements set by previously existing laws. Employees who aren’t able to work due to COVID-19 exposure or diagnosis may also be eligible to file state disability insurance claims. Likewise, employees whose hours are significantly reduced or who are laid off or terminated are eligible for state unemployment benefits under Governor Cooper’s March 17th Executive Order expanding the state’s unemployment eligibility statutes.

Many North Carolinians have already taken advantage of the temporarily revised unemployment laws. Officials say they received 113,002 unemployment claims in just one week and that 87% of those claims were related to COVID-19. Expect that number to rise with Governor Cooper’s latest Order.

Employers should be familiar with applicable employment laws including the increasing number of COVID-19-specific state and federal legislation. Lincoln Derr can help guide you through this unprecedented time.

Kathleen (Kathi) Lucchesi

Kathi Lucchesi regularly advises her clients in connection with all types of employment issues both in and out of the workplace. She works with employers in connection with the hiring, discipline and termination of employees, policy drafting and implementation, claims for wrongful discharge and discrimination, unemployment, FMLA and Wage & Hour violations, and EEOC, DOL, ESC, DOJ, and Title IX investigations.

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